Whether you’re Irish or not, you will feel at home on this Emerald Isle. The grass truly is greener, the Irish are proud of their homeland, their brogue is charming and there is a pub on most every corner. Ireland is 150 miles wide by 280 miles long, 32,599 square miles, similar in size to the state of Maine, with a population of 6.4 million (Maine’s is 1.3 million). While it sounds small and manageable, the roads along the coast and countryside can be very narrow and loaded with sheep so road speeds are slow and rustic.
Ireland’s West Coast is gorgeous –Dingle to Galway to the Connemara Mountains – this makes for an idyllic week, landing in Shannon airport, exploring the rocky coast, delightful small Irish villages, staying in romantic BnBs or luxury castles.
The Cliffs of Moher is a must, near the beautiful coastal town of Kinvarra, these seaside cliffs drop dramatically to the sea and the waves crash against the stunning rocky shore.
The castles of Ireland that dot the west coastare amazing – some eerie and abandoned, other inhabited and restored, you can even lodge the night in a classic castle, while others are so ancient – dating to 100 AD that the only remaining vestiges are the castle walls and narrow bunker windows.
Dingle Peninsula, home to Funghi the friendly Irish dolphin and more great pubs in namesake Dingle. The peninsula is famed for its scenic drives, sea views and monastic ruins. Conor Pass and Castelgregory is the highest and most scenic spot, you will pass graveyards, forts, castles and shipwrecks, along narrow twisting roads.
The Ring of Kerry is another top sight in Ireland, south of Dingle, this 179-km-long circular route in County Kerry takes you from Killarney to Kenmare, around the Iveragh Peninsula to Killorglin – passing through Sneem, Waterville, Cahersiveen, and Glenbeigh.
The city of Galway is fantastic, very collegiate, up and coming – home to tech and pharmaceutical companies, great pubs and people watching. Galway has festivals galore, Gaelic music, Craic, top Irish restaurants, and fun Irish shopping.
Connemara is splendid as lush green rolling hills leads to grander rocky mountains, most notably the Twelve Bens and the Owenglin River. Connemara also offers sandy Irish beaches- not exactly conducive to sunbathing given Ireland’s cool moist temperatures most of the year, but these stretches of sand along the Atlantic are incredibly lovely looking out at the Aran Islands and the vast deep blue sea in contrast to the countryside.
Castles in Connemara include Ballnyahinch, Abbeyglen, Ross Castle and the Cashel House Manor and Kilemore Abbey, all worthy of a visit.
Ireland’s East Coast is most famed for Dublin, Ireland’s largest city and capital, and it’s a great place to stay and enjoy day trips exploring the Irish countryside, waterfalls and yes, more castles and pubs.
Dublin is rich with history, from Vikings to the Viceroy who ruled here during the British dominance, to today’s more modern architecture and industry juxtaposed against revered Trinity College and St Patrick’s Church. While Dublin is not a very big city, the traffic is significant – so explore on foot, grab a cab or a hop on hop off tour to see the city’s treasures.
A tour of Dublin must include the magnificent churches of St Patrick’s and Christ Church – ironically there is a fee to view these sacred and stunning religious monuments.
Dublin Castle offers amazing fortified grounds, a remaining turret and palatial State Apartments – all part of the tour within the Castle proper. The Castle interior gleans a glimpse of the how the wealthy viceroy lived over 700 years of power and how the commoners longed to peak into the castle’s luxury draperies, chandeliers dripping with diamonds and rich decor.
Trinity College is another must visit – this campus is amazingly old and intimidating. Also on display at Trinity College is the Book of Kells – an 8th century illuminated gospel and the Long Hall of Books – the largest library collection of classic bound historic books and busts in Ireland included in your admission to the Trinity Tour of the Book of Kells.
Some Dublin museums are free, such as The National Gallery of Ireland and the National Museum of Ireland, plus the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery which feature works by Irish artist Jack Yeats, Picasso, Van Gogh, the Impressionist Monet, Manet and Rembrandt, and more.
Walking the streets of Dublin tells its own tale – impressive Norman, Anglo Irish, and Georgian style buildings of granite and marble sit amid grand neo-Gothic cathedrals. The renaissance brought Victorian and Italianate style to the capital city. The River Liffey divides the city of Dublin, and provides beautiful views, the Ha Penny Bridge is a must – particularly pretty light up at night.
Shop Grafton Street where performers take to the pedestrian zone on weekends to entertain, walk the banks of the Liffey River as well.
The best Dublin nightlife with authentic Irish music scene is Baggott Street for Irish sessions and craic in pubs. Enjoy true Irish music and sing-alongs over a pint of Guinness or Smithwicks (a beer older than the classic dark brown national stout). O’Donoghues and Searsons are particularly popular with live Irish music most nights. You can also partake in a narrated Literary Pub Crawl or Musical Pub Crawl for a fee – but we found our own great pubs. less contrived, just following our noses and the jovial noises.
Temple Bar is like an Irish keg party type pub crawl every night with wall to wall Guinness quaffing guys and gals and loud music.
The Guinness Storehouse tour provides a narrated tour of the famous Irish stout beer, the trademark Guinness marketing genius and insight to the simple but successful ingredient of Sir Arthur Guinness brilliant beer. After the tour, you are good for a “free” beer (ok – the tour is pricy at $18 euro) which is served on the top floor Gravity Bar with floor to ceiling windows and splendid views of the entire city, church steeples and all, and the mountains of Wicklow and Sugar Loaf in the distance. The Jameson Distillery also offers Irish whiskey factory tours and narrative about the Jameson’s Whiskey.
The best places to dine in Dublin, The Brazen Head Pub – the oldest in all of Dublin located near the Guinness Factory, The Bank on Excheque Street in town which offers a lavish Italianate decor in an old 1892 bank, and the Merry Ploughboy Hall outside of town (go for the live show). Dublin’s food is quite traditional fare – menus look much the same featuring: bangers and mash, fish and chips, Guinness Stew, Irish Stew, cottage pie, chowder, salmon and brown bread.
Day trips from Dublin, drive south along the coast to the Wicklow Mountains and stunning Sugar Loaf, visiting Powerscourt Castle Garden and Estate – a beautiful 13th century medieval castle with extensive gardens and grounds. Powerscourt is certainly among the most amazing and best preserved estates in Ireland including a perfect reflecting pool lake and Japanese gardens.
Powerscourt Waterfall is the largest waterfall in Ireland plummeting 398 feet over mossy cliffs at the foot of the Wicklow Mountains. From Powerscourt, drive the undulating uninhabited landscape of Sally Gap (not recommended in snow or inclement visibility).
The Military Road offers sights of filming locations for Braveheart starring Mel Gibson and Michael Connelly to name a few. Glendalough, a medieval settlement in the glacial valley of Wicklow, offers delightful scenery and a 6th century site – one of the oldest monastic sights in Ireland dating to St Kevin and 600 AD which you can explore on foot with a walk to the upper and lower lakes past eerily old graveyards. The Roundwood Inn in Bray served as a lovely spot for lunch of Irish stew and a pint along your return to Dublin.
North of Dublin, visit the beautifully restored Mallahide Castle. The 12th century Castle of Mallahide was home to the wealthy Talbot family and the castle rooms on display are decorated with authenticity and grace. The Mallahide gardens including a walled garden and a beautiful glass garden pavilion are a must. Mallahide offers outdoor concerts on the extensive manicured castle lawns. Mallahide Castle would be splendid spot for a picnic too, provision ahead with smoke salmon, Irish goat cheese, brown bread, and wine! The nearby town of Mallahide offers great boutiques, pubs and a perfect lunch cafe, and a walk along the harbor full of pleasure boats.
See where Braveheart was filmed, at Trim Castle, the largest in Ireland and the finest representation of 11-13th century living of nobility and warriors. See the crumbling castle walls, the standing Yellow and the surrounding moat along the Boyne River which bubbles over rocks and under bridges through the charming town of Trim.
Irish Travel Tips:
Irish weather is very cool even in summer months, Ireland is 53N latitude, the damp humid air will have you wanting a jacket or sweater.
Irish food and drink – simple and happy – defines the country, along with song and good cheer (they go together well – once you drink you feel like singing and dancing).
Irish dining: A big Irish breakfast should fill you up – eggs, brown bread, roasted tomato, hash brown potato, blood pudding, homemade sausage, and even a side of baked beans. Mid afternoon – grab a pint with fish and chips (Irish fries), Have proper Irish tea service with baked confections late day, before an evening meal of stew in a pub.
Ireland is expensive, especially due to the Euro. Despite the economic downturn in Ireland years ago (Ireland was ahead of Greece and Spain) the prices have not adjusted, watch your receipts and expenses.
Irish rental cars are typically manual transmission so you are not only driving on the left side of the road, sitting on the right, but shifting on the left too. Signs are confusing too – so limit your tours and enjoy the Irish people, pubs and historic sites versus spending your time in the car trying to cover too much ground.
Engage the Irish – their Celtic brogue is genius, brilliant and highly entertaining… Slante!